As someone who prefers sports watches — and who’s been a fan of the Fifty Fathoms for many years — it seems clear what Blancpain needs to do to make its iconic dive watch a bestseller.
The Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 3 (Ref. 5901 5630 NANA) being offered in the exact same 41.3 mm x 13.3 mm case as the original Fifty Fathoms from the 1950s represents a perfect modern size for a broad range of wrists. This is notable, particularly after years of offering the Fifty Fathoms primarily in larger cases.
Blancpain chose Swatch Group’s 9K Bronze Gold (also used by sister brand Omega) for the case. This patented alloy is enriched with 37.5% gold (hallmarked 9K), and 50% copper — allowing it to be called “bronze” (silver, palladium, and gallium) and does not oxidize to a verdigris color like most bronze because of the addition of gold.
Bronze is fitting for a dive watch — as are the moisture indicator and retro aesthetic — and the overall design of the watch looks fantastic. However, the gold case, high-end movement, and limited production result in a relatively high price of $32K — restricting the number of people that can buy a Fifty Fathoms timepiece despite high demand for the product.
Ways that Blancpain could make the next Fifty Fathoms even more enticing.
1- Offer it in a stainless steel case (this is the most obvious and likely to happen).
2- Price it no higher than a stainless steel Rolex Submariner (or as close to the Submariner’s starting price of $9,100 as is feasible).
3- Make it a regular production model with enough inventory to satiate demand (could be a great alternative to the often “waitlisted” Submariner).
4- Offer two-piece textile and rubber strap options (makes the watch more fashionable and keeps the costs down compared to a bracelet).
The Swatch Group acquired Blancpain (which also included Frederic Piguet SA) in 1992, and represents a paradox when you consider they’re most famous for pioneering the production of professional diving watches — yet they also produce very high-end classical haute horology timepieces. It would be awesome to have a Fifty Fathoms with a movement finished to the level of Villeret timepieces, and modern Fifty Fathoms already have much better finishing than Rolex movements — but if consumers are given the choice between a finely finished movement or a lower price, I’d wager they’d prefer a dive watch at a lower price than with such a premium movement.
Even ultra-wealthy collectors are buying the new MoonSwatch and BlancSwatch collaborations, so it’s not as though a high price is strictly necessary to woo the upper-income demographic (as Veblen goods theory suggests). To appeal to two different sets of consumers Blancpain could offer luxurious manually finished haute horology versions alongside more accessiblely priced industrial-style tool watch variants.
Within the luxury Swiss diver’s watch market, to compete against Rolex/Tudor — which Omega/Longines is already doing better than any other watch company — why not approach from a third front as well? Longines/Omega/Blancpain being positioned to compete more directly against Rolex/Tudor would likely be a win for both Swatch Group shareholders looking to see the company profit grow and end consumers looking for more options (alternatives to Rolex).
The general trend and consensus in Swiss luxury watchmaking is to sell fewer watches at higher price points, but when you have one of the most famous and historic dive watch models already in your arsenal, and the ability to bring it to market as low as $400 (for a BlancSwatch), there’s clearly some room for recalibrating the asking price of the standard Fifty Fathoms.
In a recent interview, Blancapin CEO, Marc Hayek, alluded to new Fifty Fathoms versions being in the pipeline. Hopefully, we’ll see a well-priced stainless steel version of this watch in the near future.
Photo by Blancpain.